This post was originally published on the Adrian Swinscoe blog here.
By Liz Osborn, VP, Product and Solution Marketing
We’ve all heard those awful customer service stories, where contact center agents fly off the handle and manage a situation poorly. The end result is often catastrophic and has lasting effects, thanks to the prevalence of social media where everyone has a public megaphone to broadcast bad experiences. So it is no surprise that a recent ICMI survey found that contact center agents have the greatest potential to affect the customer experience.
I started my business career working my way through college as a telemarketer, doing outbound calls for a telemarketing consulting firm, so I know how important it is for an agent to have the right tools for the job, and the right information at their fingertips. I’ve experienced (many times) looking frantically for information, while an impatient prospect or customer gets more and more frustrated.
Today’s agents face an even more daunting task than I did. With multiple customer communication channels and self-service options, by the time a customer gets to a live agent, they are usually already frustrated, as they have tried to solve their issue through other channels, like the website or their social network. The issues that agents must resolve are becoming much more complex, as the simpler issues and standard inquiries are resolved through automated self-service.
In addition to more complex issues, and a higher level of initial customer frustration, many agents have to work with complicated legacy technology, with multiple screens that deliver incomplete information forcing the agent to ask the customer to repeat information over and over. This is the number one source of customer frustration!
Some of the “bad agent” horror stories we’ve heard are the result of poor training and hiring, but many of the bad experiences are the result of agents who don’t have the right tools at their disposals to do their jobs effectively. This leads to the agent being frustrated, stressed and ultimately disengaged, and creates a ripple effect leading to a very poor customer experience.
By the Numbers
According to the aforementioned survey, 100 percent of contact center managers understand that it’s the engagement of the agent that has the biggest impact on customer experience. Yet 74 percent of those same contact center managers acknowledge that they’re actually preventing those agents from providing an excellent customer experience, whether from the lack of the right tools or other issues. There is a huge gap between what we know about agents and performance, and what we’re doing about it as an industry.
As you might imagine, without the proper information at their fingertips, agents tend to feel stressed. They want to help customers, but are often unable to do so effectively. With all that we hear about these negative agent experiences, it’s important to remember that agents are humans too.
Who Are Agents?
Let’s take a closer look at typical agent profiles. The results showed that the average age of an agent is 31 years old. Entry pay is approximately $13.50 an hour and the top-paid agents earn an average of $20+ per hour. Lastly, 52 percent of agents only last on average less than three years. Although the job of an agent may not be a career for some people, there are things they wish you (as the customer) knew about their jobs.
Their companies often place them on the very low end of organizational importance; they are typically low paid and unappreciated. Many customers they deal with feel empowered to be shockingly rude over the phone, or in emails or chats; much more so than they would ever be with face to face service or sales people. In addition, some may work from home and can feel isolated and alone. Add to that the lack of effective tools, to allow them to quickly resolve the customers’ issue, and it’s a potentially difficult situation.
When All Else Fails, Use the Golden Rule
At the end of the day, what agents want you to know is that kindness goes a long way. Sometimes their days have been filled with malfunctioning, outdated technology. Other days they’ve been screamed at far too many times. It’s important to remember that even though your initial customer experience hasn’t been the greatest, when you jump on the phone with the company’s customer service representative, a fresh new attitude can turn it around for not only you, but your agent too.